Heading into the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) at Churchill Downs, William Farish's Mineshaft was regarded as the hottest handicap horse in America with six wins from seven starts in this country. The race figured to be a tough task as Mineshaft drew the outside post and was carrying highweight of 123 pounds. The 4-year-old colt came up just a head short to Perfect Drift.Now three weeks later, Mineshaft has another daunting test in front of him in a salty group of handicap stars set for Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 Suburban Handicap at 1 1/4 miles. Among Mineshaft's competitiors will be 2002 Breeders' Cup Classic winner Volponi, who will be equipped with blinkers for the first time since his 43-1 longshot shocker at Arlington Park last fall.Some were critical of the tactics of jockey Robby Albarado, the only one to ride Mineshaft in America, in the Stephen Foster. Albarado made his usual mid-race move with Mineshaft while Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day sat chilly with Perfect Drift. Mineshaft accelerated to the lead at the three-eighths pole, but Day waited and timed his move perfectly for the narrow score."The horse has a real high turn of foot at the end of his races and that's a great thing to have," said trainer Neil Howard, who is sticking with Albarado in the Suburban. "Things happen sometimes. Not every race goes as perfectly as you think it should."Despite a tough loss in the Stephen Foster, Howard has maintained a positive outlook."He impressed me to no end the way he came back on and galloped out after the race," the trainer said. "It was a pretty solid field of horses. Perfect Drift is no slouch and he and Mineshaft were nine and a half lengths in front of the third horse."Mineshaft is a winner of four stakes races this year, including the Grade 1 Pimlico Special. In addition to Volponi, Evening Attire and Harlan's Holiday figure to be dangerous in the Suburban as is Dollar Bill, who will be making his first start for Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel."Volponi worries me as much as anybody," Howard said. "You know what kind of horse he is when he's at his peak. He's had a couple of races now and the blinkers are back on. He's going to be up to it and ready to go."
Mineshaft, a regally bred son of A. P. Indy, and Volponi are 121-pound highweights.Amherst Stable and Spruce Pond Stable's Volponi did not run for 195 days after his unlikely triumph in the Breeders' Cup Classic. He made his return to the races in an allowance May 9 when he lost by a neck to Speightstown at seven furlongs. In the Brooklyn, Volponi found himself in a tactical disadvantage chasing loose-on-the-lead winner Iron Deputy over a sloppy track and finishing 2 1/2 lengths behind in second.Volponi, who won the Breeders' Cup Classic with blinkers on, did not run with blinkers in his first two starts this year. For the Suburban, Hall of Fame trainer P.G. Johnson has decided to put the blinkers back on."If he would have had them in his first two races, he would have burned himself out," Johnson said. "He was sharper than he was fit. Now, he's all right. He'll settle wherever he wants."Nobody can take away Volponi's Breeders' Cup win, but with an 0-for-2 start to 2003, his big score last fall may be viewed more and more as a fluke each time he does not win."He has to do something for people to keep paying attention to him," said Johnson, who would like to see Volponi sit just off the pace. "I wish there was some more speed in the race, but what are you going to do?"Starlight Stable's Harlan's Holiday had no shot in the Brooklyn after a troubled break. He was never a factor in the slop."He turned his head exactly when the gates were opening," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "He broke behind the field on a track he didn't like and you couldn't make much ground up on."After winning the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream, Harlan's Holiday was shipped to the Middle East a month later where he ran a good second behind Moon Ballad in the Dubai World Cup, only beaten five lengths. Pletcher said he did not think the long trip took too much out of Harlan's Holiday, but his theory could not be tested in the Brooklyn as it was a throw-out race for the colt.Evening Attire is one who can be seriously affected by a lack of pace in the Suburban. In the 2002 running of this race, he fell 10 lengths behind the modified pace of E Dubai and lost to that one by better than five lengths. The gelded son of Black Tie Affair made his first start of 2003 in the Brooklyn, beaten eight lengths in fourth."The distance should help us, although other than the Jockey Club Gold Cup, he's never won a race at Belmont," Kelly said. "He really likes two turns. There's not a whole lot of speed in the race. I'll just let Shaun (Bridgmohan) do what he wants."Evening Attire and Harlan's Holiday have been weighted very close to Mineshaft and Volponi. They will each carry 120 pounds in the Suburban.Late-running Dollar Bill has not run since November, but is a fresh horse making his first start for Frankel, which is a potent handicapping angle. His last victory came over a year ago when he narrowly prevailed in a $37,000 allowance at the Fair Grounds.PP, HORSE, TRAINER, JOCKEY, WGT.
1. Mineshaft, Neil Howard, Robby Albarado,121
2. Judge's Case, Steve Klesaris, Mike Luzzi, 113
3. Hero's Tribute, John Ward Jr., Jean-Luc Samyn, 115
4. Evening Attire, Pat Kelly, Shaun Bridgmohan, 120
5. Harlan's Holiday, Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez, 120
6. Volponi, P.G. Johnson, Jose Santos, 121
7. Puzzlement, H. Allen Jerkens, Jorge Chavez, 113
8. Dollar Bill, Bobby Frankel, Javier Castellano, 113
9. Nothing Flat, Nick Zito, Eibar Coa1, 113